Dope on the Streets of D.C.

Rolled Cigarette Tony Clough

Our subject this time is ‘What another big city is doing.’ Why do we care what another city is doing? We can learn from what other cities do.

So if your city DOES want to legalize marijuana and at the same time DOES NOT want to legalize marijuana, you can take a look at what they’re doing in Washington, D.C.

And what are they doing in Washington, D.C.?

This is what happened in Washington: Studies released in Washington, July 12, 2013, by civil rights lawyers, showed that 8 of every 10 adults arrested in Washington from 2009 through 2011 were black — and 9 of 10 people arrested on the charge of simple drug possession during the same period were black.

This spring, in a move taken for the stated purpose of ending the ‘disparate impact’ of the drug laws on Washington’s black population, the D.C. Council — (the city council) — passed a law that provided for a fine of $25 for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the city of Washington.

The new law took effect Thursday, July 17, 2014, and while it could remain the case that blacks continue to receive a disproportionate number of citations for possession of marijuana, neither blacks nor anyone else will any longer face arrest, criminal charges, prosecution and possible sentencing for the possession of marijuana — provided the amount of marijuana involved is an ounce or less.

The $25 fine, and the removal of arrest and criminal prosecution applies, however, only to possession of marijuana. It is still a crime — meaning arrest and prosecution are still a possibility — if someone sells marijuana in any amount in Washington, no matter how small an amount, or smokes marijuana in public, or drives a vehicle while intoxicated from using marijuana.

If someone is smoking in a private home, and the police enter legally — say, in response to a domestic relations call for police help — that person cannot be arrested for smoking marijuana in a private home (as he or she can in public) but can be given a citation carrying the standard $25 fine for possession of an ounce or less.

In sum, one person can hand (that is, “give”) another person an ounce or less of marijuana, in public or in private — but only as long as the exchange isn’t a sale for cash, or a barter-style trade. And you can possess an ounce or less of marijuana in Washington, D.C. — but no one can lawfully sell you that marijuana in Washington, D.C.

In addition, you can hand someone a marijuana cigarette, rolled and ready to smoke, on a sidewalk in Washington, and risk only a $25 fine for possession — but if you light that cigarette and start smoking it, you risk arrest and criminal prosecution for smoking in public. So you can see in Washington’s new drug law a wish to legalize marijuana and, at the same time, a wish not to legalize it.

There’s one more huge contradiction in the Washington law, and it’s a big one: Washington is full of federally owned land, and federally owned buildings — and the new law doesn’t apply on federally owned land, or in federally owned buildings.

Any possession or use of marijuana — except medical — has been and remains a violation of federal law, and federal police, such the U.S. Park Police, who have jurisdiction over the city’s many parks, large and small, and the traffic circles that are a part of many parks, are expected to announce the position they will take under Washington’s new drug law.

This means you might pay a $25 fine if a city police officer sees you hand someone a bag of marijuana on a city sidewalk, but be arrested for the same act by a federal police officer on federally owned land, such as the National Mall, where the large museums and national monuments are.

These are the new rules in Washington, as set out in a police department release. — Information on the new drug law is available from the Metropolitan Police Department, 300 Indiana Avenue, NW, Room 5059, Washington, DC 20001. Telephone: (202) 727-9099, Fax: (202) 727-4106, email: mpd@dc.gov. The following material is quoted from a Metropolitan Police release available online.

What’s no longer a criminal violation?

On July 17, 2014, the District of Columbia law on possession of small amounts of marijuana changed. As a result, it is no longer a criminal violation for a person to:

  • Possess one ounce or less of marijuana;
  • Transfer one ounce or less of marijuana to another person, so long as there is no payment made or any other type of exchange of goods or services; or
  • Possess marijuana-related drug paraphernalia — such a bongs, cigarette rolling papers, and cigar wrappers — that are associated with one ounce or less of marijuana.

Civil fines for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Although the actions noted above are no longer criminal violations, any person found by an MPD officer to be in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana can receive a $25 ticket. Any visible marijuana or paraphernalia will be seized.

Any person(s) receiving a $25 ticket must provide their accurate name and address. If they fail to do so, they could face arrest and, upon conviction, a fine of up to $100.

If a person wishes to appeal the $25 ticket, they can follow the instructions on the ticket to file an appeal with the Office of Administrative Hearings.

What is still a criminal violation?

A person can still be arrested for:

  • Selling any amount of marijuana to another person;
  • Operating a vehicle or boat under the influence of marijuana;
  • Smoking, eating, or drinking marijuana — or holding or carrying a lighted roll of paper or other lighted smoking equipment filled with marijuana — in any public space, such as:
  1. On any street, sidewalk, alley park, or parking area;
  2. In a vehicle on any street, alley, park, or parking area; or
  3. Any place to which the public is invited.

Anyone arrested for using marijuana in public can, upon conviction, be sentenced to up to 60 days in jail or fined up to $500….

Impact on authorized medical marijuana users.

A person who has been issued a Medical Marijuana Card by the District Department of Health may continue to possess up to two ounces of medical marijuana per month. However, the use of medical marijuana in public remains a criminal offense and can result in arrest.

The summary of the law quoted above is from a police release available online at http://mpdc.dc.gov/marijuana.